Asking for Support

Today, I’m doing something I rarely ever do and asking readers for their help. The fact that you buy and read my books is truly enough and for that I’m grateful. But I have special circumstances, and if you’ve read Dying for Justice and liked it, I’d love for you to post a review and rating on Amazon.

The short weird story is that after 27 reviews—22 of which are 5-star, and 5 are 4-star—a reader posted a one-star review. I wouldn’t care except that one-star reviews really hurt a book’s Amazon ranking. Immediately after it posted, my ranking dropped, and the book disappeared off the police procedural bestseller list.

This breaks my heart because Dying for Justice is, overall, my best-rated book, and the one that more readers have contacted me to rave about. If the reviewer had posted a legitimate negative comment, I would have simply let it go. But he talked about other writers and novels and never mentioned a thing about my story, until one broad comment near the end that was aimed at me personally. It’s also the only book review he’s ever posted on Amazon.

I’m hoping enough of you will post positive reviews that mathematically his ranking will be diluted. The reviews don’t have to be long, a sentence or two is enough, because clicking a rating will help the most. I also wouldn’t mind if you voted down his review as “unhelpful.” ☺

I’m not asking anyone to post a review you don’t believe in. But many of you have taken the time to write to me about this book, and if you could spend a few more minutes supporting it, I would be very grateful. All I can promise in return is another Jackson story in June. (And more book giveaways on Amazon to come!)

Thanks again for all your support.

High-Intensity Scenario Training

“We handcuff dead people.” That was the takeaway message after an afternoon spent participating in an active-shooter training. Of course, I wasn’t one of the law enforcement officers doing the actual training (darn!), but I did play a role that helped make the scenario as realistic as possible.

My job for the afternoon was to run screaming across the top floor of an abandoned office building—which served in the scenario as a federal courthouse. The trainers wanted the sessions to be high intensity with lots of noise and distractions. So first, a loud siren came on. That started my adrenaline pumping. Then it was time to pull on my facemask and get into place. The mask was for protection against the paint-like pellets in case someone shot me.

Moments later, a man in green fatigues came running straight at us—across the long, cement floor—with an AK-47 in hand. Then our instructor signaled the three of us to go. And we would run, yelling something like, “Help! They killed Dave. They’re shooting everyone.” And screaming too. He wanted us to be loud and distracting.

Participants in a high-intensity scenario trainingIt was weird at first, because I’m not a screamer, but I quickly got into character. Between the assault weapons and the siren and the sudden barrage of uniformed officers pointing more guns—it was easy to feel alarmed. (Picture: The other two “screamers” wait between training sessions)

We ran the scenario seven or eight times, with different groups of law enforcement personnel getting their turn. People from Homeland Security, Lane County Sheriff’s Office, and Eugene and Springfield Police all participated.

After the first few times, my adrenaline settled down a little, and my observational journalist side kicked. I began to notice that each team of officers did things a little differently. For example, another participant played a wounded Federal Marshal. Some officers checked him briefly and moved on. Others patted him down and took his weapon. Still others instructed him to crawl out of the room.

And then there was the armed bad guy at the top of the stairs. He got shot every time. And in each debriefing following the scenario, the instructor would at some point say, “We cuff dead people.” Meaning, you don’t just walk away from the bad guy, even if he looks dead and you have his gun. You cuff him to be sure.

The afternoon is one of those vivid memories that will not likely fade. And that phrase will always stay with me. Don’t be surprised if you see it in one of my novels someday.

Amazon May Not Be the Bad Guy

The recent news about the IPG-Amazon struggle has people saying all the same things. “Amazon is flexing its muscle and hurting the little guys.” “Big bad Amazon.” Shelf Awareness ran the story with quotes from authors and publishers all complaining about Amazon’s tactics.

My understanding of the dispute is that IPG wanted better distribution terms for its ebooks—I believe it requested no discounting—and Amazon said no. Which the company has the right to do. Amazon already capitulated when the Big 6 publishers colluded to set their own high prices—a collusion that is now the subject of lawsuits and investigations.

So like all other retailers, Amazon wants to control the sale price of its inventory, and since it couldn’t get Independent Publishers Group to agree to its terms, it took IPG’s products off the shelf. (Caveat: There may be more to the issue than I realize, and if you know more, please leave a comment.)

The people hurt most by this are the authors whose ebooks are no longer selling at Amazon. But it’s important to remember that these authors have a choice. They chose to publish their work through a small publisher, which in turn, contracted with IPG for distribution. Or maybe some authors are working directly with IPG. Either way, these authors have chosen to hire middlemen for publication and/or distribution. Middlemen that take a chunk of the profit, and in this case, refuse to meet Amazon’s terms.

But this is the new age of publishing! Authors don’t need publishers, or distributors for that matter. Anyone can upload their ebooks to Amazon though Kindle Direct Publishing and to Barnes & Noble through PubIt. Granted, if you want to sell on Kobo and Sony, you need a distributor. But Kobo and Sony’s market shares are almost insignificant, and at the same time, they are the ebook retailers doing the discounting that, in turn, triggers Amazon to drop its price.

I pulled my books down from Kobo and Sony for that very reason. They caused me to lose far more money at Amazon than I ever made from either. And Amazon has never discounted my books except to match another retailer’s price.

I understand authors wanting to control the price the book is sold for, and thus, maximize royalties, but if your book is not selling on Amazon, you’ll never maximize your profit. From my perspective, it makes far more sense for IPG to pull its books from Kobo and Sony, and thus eliminate the discounting issue, than to give up its authors’ opportunity to sell on Amazon.

What is IPG offering its authors—besides getting their books pulled from the biggest retailer in the marketplace? I realize distributors may be able to get some print books into bookstores, but what can they do for ebook-only authors that those authors can’t do for themselves?

Of course, some—or many—may have signed contracts with small publishers (that in turn signed with IPG) and therefore, they no longer have the right to control their own work. But instead of complaining about Amazon, they should be contacting their publishers about finding a new distributor. Or if they work with IPG directly, maybe they should terminate that agreement and either find a new distributor, or better yet, simply join the indie revolution and upload their books to Amazon, B&N, and Apple themselves.

Another blogger has offered some excellent alternatives for IPG as well. I expect to take some heat for this, so tell me, what do you think?

 

Controlling Digital Content

The greatest thing about ebooks is the ease of selling and sharing them. It can also be the worst thing too, because it leaves authors with little control of their content. With print books, no one can sell your novel unless you supply them with products. With ebooks, once a distributor or retailer has your file, they can keep selling it forever—with or without your permission.

Why reputable businesses would do this makes no sense, and yet, they do. Take Sony for example. First, the retailer kept discounting my books again and again, causing Amazon to discount my books and me to lose money. My distributor would contact them, and they’d stop for while. Then out of nowhere, Sony would put my books on sale.

Then Amazon Select came along, and I decided I was done dealing with Sony permanently. So INgrooves, my distributor, had my books removed from their ebook store. A few days later, three of my Jackson titles popped up in the Sony store. They were old versions from my previous publisher, supplied by a different distributor. I contacted both my ex-publisher and the other distributor, and they quickly took care of the issue.

For a while, I had no books on Sony’s site, and everything seemed fine. Then suddenly, they were back, selling on Sony again. I know this because Amazon called to let me know I was not in compliance with my Select program agreement. They were very nice about it in person. But two days later, I started getting emails about each of the titles that was still selling elsewhere, with a 30-day notice to get in compliance or have the book removed from Amazon’s program.

Of course, I had already contacted my distributor and asked them to communicate with Sony, using a lawyer, if necessary. INgrooves sent an email to Sony and within two days, the books were down again.

But why did they start selling them again in the first place? What happened to the royalties during that time, since I no longer have an agreement with them? And will it happen again? Is Sony purposefully violating my rights to make a few extra bucks off my inexpensive e-books? Or is it an error? Does it have a computer program that keeps picking up files that should have been deleted?

Sony is not the only guilty one. I’ve heard authors complain about Kobo doing this as well. And several authors who were published with Dorchester have complained that the publisher made and sold e-books of their work—after the company gave the rights back to the author. The Amazon person who called me said many authors are experiencing similar scenarios.

This is such inexplicable behavior all around. Just because it’s an electronic file doesn’t mean anyone can sell it for profit. Authors are calling for a boycott of Dorchester, and it’s tempting to ask readers to boycott Sony as well. And Kobo too, if they’re guilty of this form of theft—also known as pirating.

Confessions of a Communication Junkie

Two recent—and unnerving—events made me realize I’m a bit of communication addict. First, I took my old laptop to the shop to add more RAM and the counter person told me it would take about two hours. I went home cooked and ate dinner, then waited for the call. By eight o’clock, I was jumping out of my skin. When I called to ask about it, the tech guy said my laptop wouldn’t be ready until the next afternoon. My heart rate escalated, I started to hyperventilate, and it was all I could do not to yell at him. The idea of being without my computer for a day was horrifying! I already felt like I had been walking around without arms for four hours.

But it was the second incident that made me realize what more specifically what I was hooked on. Two days ago, I received a text while nearing a stoplight (that familiar little beep) and glanced over at my phone to see who it was. I nearly got into a minor fender bender. It was an alarming realization that I’m addicted to communication, particularly, the incoming type. Hearing from friends, readers, and discussion groups (and occasionally publishers and production companies)—at steady intervals throughout the day—is like a stream of endorphins…or little hits of feel-good. Those communications come in various forms; emails, tweets, Facebook/Google posts, blog comments, texts, and phone calls; but almost all are satisfying… and thus addictive.

When I haven’t heard from anyone in awhile, I start to feel anxious and a little bit lonely. Considering that awhile might only mean twenty minutes, I realize the situation has become a little needy and weird.

Admitting I have a problem is the first step, but what to do next? I have no intention of cutting myself off from friends and readers. But I have started turning off my phone when I’m driving and I think I’ll start closing the internet for periods of time when I’m writing. It will be uncomfortable at first—withdrawal always is—but I think it will be mentally healthy in the long run.

Having friends online keeps people like me (who work at home) sane, but the abundance of social networking opportunities and the convenience of cell phones may have tipped the balance too far. So I’m going to practice doing something I used to be good at: being alone and happy in my own thoughts.

Anyone else with this problem? An anecdotes you’d like to share?

All Amazon!

I finally did it. I pulled all my books from B&N and enrolled the rest of the Detective Jackson novels in Amazon’s Select program. My apologies to Nook owners! But the royalties from Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) are too good to pass up.

In December, Amazon paid $1.70 per “borrow.” I made more money in one month from KOLL, with only half my books enrolled, than I’ve made from B&N in the last year. Sorry again to Nook owners, but I just can’t sell books there. Which has always been puzzle to me…because I sell so well on Amazon.

So it’s done. I’m exclusive. The move is not necessarily permanent, but I have a feeling my Amazon KOLL royalties will continue grow along with sales. And as I mentioned in a previous blog: Amazon already owns me. I might as well profit as much as I can from it.

The hardest part will be not giving away ebooks from my blog…or through LibraryThing or Goodreads. The exclusivity clause prevents it, and I’ll miss that interaction with readers. I love giving books away! But I can still give away my print books, and more important, I can give away ebooks through Amazon. And I have to remind everyone that Kindle apps are available on almost every device, and you can read Kindle books online, directly from Amazon now in the “cloud.”

So my ebooks are still available to nearly anyone with a computer, mobile phone, or tablet. And I’m sleeping better at night, knowing that as long as Amazon is doing well, so am I.

Character Name Favorites

It’s always so much fun seeing the contest names! Readers submit such a wide variety of names, and they’re so much more creative and adventurous than what I would have come up with on my own. Skia Mulvaney, Heidi Lapeer, Hubie Spikes, Joy Worldly, and Saburo were some of the most original. Others were just plain fun—Ray Sweets, Dottie Crocker, Bonnie Bleacher, Jim Zucker, and M.O. Perkins to name a few.

Without these naming contests, I would likely stick to the Eugene yellow pages as a source and end up with all “safe” names. Although my hometown is very accepting of all kinds of cultures and lifestyles, it’s not much of a melting pot. So it’s great to get a variety of names/characters and plug them into the story.

Thanks, everyone, for participating. I’ll use as many of your suggestions as I can! Overall, though, my favorite name was Daniel Talbot, submitted by Alexandra Lundgren, whose last name I’ll also use in the story. A second favorite name was Jordan Rivers.

I’m sill undecided about the female FBI agent, but some of my favorite suggestions were Nadia Hart, Grace Kizina, and Jordan Rivers. I may mix, match, and modify. Do you like Jordan Kinzia? Or Nadia Lundgren?

I’ll try to contact everyone about their free ebook, but if you don’t hear from me it’s because I couldn’t find you, so email me.

Thanks again for participating.

New Story, Names Needed

Believe or not, I’m already writing a new Jackson story, and I’m very excited about this one. I even have a working title, but it’s is too early too share. I have an interview set up with an FBI agent, and I’m considering add a new character…who my spin off into her own series someday. (We’ll see how I feel in May.)

But what I need right now from my faithful readers is your participation again. I need names and lots of them. In my past two novels, I included dozens of the names you suggested, so I hope you’ve had a chance to pick up the books and see your contributions. One reader contacted me with so much excitement (!!!!) about her name being in Liars, Cheaters & Thieves, I could hear her squealing across the county.

Many of the names I need will be witnesses, neighbors, and victim’s family members, so they don’t need any special connotations. Just reader friendly.

But one suspect in particular is a white, upperclass male who lost a lot of money in the recession and is very angry about it. Another suspect is a young Hispanic gang member with a lot to prove to his peers.

And of course, I need a name for my female FBI agent…who may be with me for a while. (So this is important, and I reserve the right to change at the last minute.)

Everyone who participates gets a free ebook of their choice, and I’ll also pick one or two favorites, who will receive a print book of their choice, or of my latest Jackson book: Liars, Cheaters & Thieves.

It’s fun for everyone if you leave your suggestions in the comments, but please also email me with your choice of ebook and file type (mobi or epub).

Thanks again for you help in the past, now let’s see what you’ve got!

The Importance of a Title

The numbers don’t lie. When my thriller was called The Arranger: A Futuristic Thriller, I couldn’t give the book away. After three days on Amazon’s free list (through the Select program), The Arranger managed a mere 1535 downloads, despite a 4.5-start rating and rave reviews. I’d already given away two books that racked up 55,000 downloads between them ,so I understood just how pathetic that number was, and I instinctively knew the problem was the title.

I originally came up with the title because it fit the antagonist, Paul. When I bounced it off my husband, he loved it and pushed for it. I keep thinking about The Gauntlet and he kept saying, “No, it’s been done.” So I put the book out as The Arranger, and that was clearly a mistake, especially when you consider I spent more on promotion for that book than any I’d ever done. <Sigh>

But the giveaway taught me that I needed a new name. And with your help, we came up with one: The Gauntlet Assassin. I made the changes, waited for the ebook to be reformatted with the new cover, and reloaded it to Amazon. Fortunately, I’d saved two days of the five-day giveaway, so I was able to list The Gauntlet Assassin for free for two days. In that time, it had nearly 15,000 downloads, and is now selling well.

Same cover, same description, same great reviews. But clearly the new name appealed to people in a way the original had not. I purposely took “A Futuristic Thriller” out of the title. I think the word future turned a lot of people off and made them think sci-fi or dystopian novel. The book is neither and set only 13 years from now.

The lesson here is that being independent allows me to makes changes and correct my mistakes.

In other news, an established production company saw a review of The Arranger and contacted me about film/TV rights. They’re reading the manuscript now. Wouldn’t it be amazing if this strange little story were made into a blockbuster film? My husband is  counting on it. 🙂

Writers: Have you changed a story’s title or cover to make it marketable?
Readers: How do you feel when writers make such changes?